Lab's focus is on horses

By Steve Deane

If you're a finely tuned athletic specimen who is unlucky enough to get caught using human growth hormone peptides in Oceania, chances are you're a horse.

Humans haven't got much to worry about. Sydney's Australian Sports Drug Testing Laboratory, the only WADA-accredited lab in Oceania, does not test athletes' urine samples for peptides; suspect samples are forwarded to a lab in Germany.

The Herald understands that lab, in Cologne, is the only WADA lab that can screen effectively for peptides - but it is as yet unable to test to an evidential level, meaning the results would likely not stand up in court.

Director-general David Howman said many of WADA's 33 labs could test for peptides "depending on what process they use".

"We're trying to develop it so it is better," Mr Howman said. "But we've got to be honest, it is a heck of a hard thing to detect because of the natural production of this stuff."

No athlete had ever returned a positive test for a growth hormone peptide, Mr Howman confirmed.

There is one lab in the Southern Hemisphere working to produce a test for peptides. Backed by an annual $1 million Victoria State Government grant, Melbourne's Racing Analytical Services laboratory has set up a unit specifically to tackle the peptide threat.

"We are probably the only lab around that is putting a big effort into it," the lab's deputy director David Batty said.

"We have employed three specialist researchers who have experience with peptides and we've got them working specifically on these things."

But even these people, with a background in peptides, have found out it is not as easy as they thought.

Peptide research is an area of expertise most labs simply don't have, Dr Batty said. As well as being difficult, the science is extremely expensive.

"The only way we've been able to combat it is that we've been given a special grant. Normal racing laboratories around the world won't be doing it and only a few of the WADA labs will be doing it."

Peptide use in race horses has been a problem for years. Dermorphin, an opiate peptide derived from South American frogs that allows horses to ignore pain, has been detected in the United States.

"Dermorphin is 40 times more potent than morphine," Dr Batty said. "They've had probably a dozen positives in the States with it. We've developed a screen for that but in the time we have been looking at it there are now 15 analogues of dermorphin. They just keep changing it all the time."

Now human use of peptides has hit the headlines, the lab may switch the focus of its work. But for now it's purely on developing screens that will help clean up horse racing.

The peptide project

This project was my idea and undertaken by me voluntarily. I researched and believe I fully understood the potential risks before beginning and assumed any such risks willingly. I believe I took all steps reasonably necessary to safeguard my own health and wellbeing. For example, the substance I took, GHRP-6, was examined by a chemist at Auckland University, who confirmed its chemical makeup and purity. The needles and injecting water I used were sourced via a prescription from my GP. I consulted a nurse about correct injecting technique. APN New Zealand and the editors of the Herald insisted I did not do anything that would break any laws during this investigation. I checked with the Ministry of Health and Medsafe and consulted a lawyer before importing GHRP-6 from the United States, buying it online. To the best of my knowledge and belief, all steps undertaken in this investigation were legally permissible.

- NZ Herald

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